Set in early Saxon times when ploughing began in Solmonath (February) we know from ‘The Rights of Various People’ that workers had the right to a drinking feast in return for their obligation to a days ploughing on the Lord's land.
Plough teams had one, two or eight oxen. In the case of a two oxen team the oxen would have had names that they could easily recognise, traditionally a one syllable name and a two syllable name (here Nimble walking in the farrow and Quick walking on the turf).
Field sizes were set in very practical ways: the length that the oxen could work before needing a break set the length, this was called a 'furrow long' which became the furlong. The width of a field was determined by what a plough team could plough in a day this is known as a rod or a chain. The area of this field became known as an acre.
Ploughing started at the centre end of the field and progressed back and forth in a spiral fashion moving clockwise turning the sods to the right, in this way over the years the fields developed a camber which often still shows on our landscape.
Nerthus was the Earth goddess as noted by Saint Bede. Note in later Saxon times she was replaced by Frigg.
Ploughing was hard work requiring strength to control the plough, Elf-schot refers to 'a sudden sharp pain caused by the influence of elves'
In cold Solmonath, we return to mead,
Oxen in frosty, crisp morning to lead.
To plough the cold land, to sow the corn seed,
To the lord's first field, fulfilling our deed.
When sun he upgoeth, we bless the ploughshare,
God speed the plough team, let naught us impair.
We three men tilleth, Nerthus in her earth,
For the livelihood, of all men's worth.
We two men a ploughing, a lad sowing corn,
Two oxen a pulling, on a misty morn.
I am a leading, Aelfric guides the plough,
Elf-schot in the back, if thee don’t know how.
Raising the mouldboard, at end furrow long,
Changing our places, thee need to stay strong.
Nimble in furrow, and Quick on the turf,
Pulling heavy plough, for all of their worth.
Walking the furlong, sun wise straight and fine,
Strong oxen to rest, at end of the line.
With turf on the left, and sod on the right,
Ploughing all long day, before it is night.
That sacred point when, day and night divide,
Put away the plough, its ale drinking tide.
After the plough day, and thrusting our shaft,
On eve of morrow, we quaff the strong draught.
Bring us more good ale, we'll raise our great horn,
Up with pointy end, drink to Barleycorn.
Made from best barely, we down it with glee,
Lift up thine tankards, wassail unto thee.
Copyright Andrew Rea May 2016
See also 'The Corn Dolly':